Season 8, Episode 5: “Invocation”
Original Airdate: December 3, 2000
So what is this, is this business as usual? A monster-of-the-week, a skeptic and a believer investigating the disappearance slash reappearance of some creepy little kid, same old business, same old partner dynamic, I mean. That’s the risk, isn’t it? Even flipping the script and turning Scully into a believer is a thing that could be ruined. Fortunately, “Invocation” shows us that there’s potential in the flipped script. Unfortunately, “Invocation” also shows us how harrowing the new world might be.
Because what did we always have, when things got bad in the Before Times? You can say it with me: we had the Mulder and Scully dynamic. We had a little bit of lightness in our dour. Doggett, thus far, has not been a particularly light fellow. You know, he’s one of those ex-cops! With the secrets, and the pain! And while Mulder too had his secrets, and his pain, Mulder also had a lifetime of people telling him to quit believing in aliens. He had humility and the wry humor of the bullied.
What Doggett has, instead, is stoicism and a quiet drive. The case in “Invocation” plucks a string in him, a string that this episode doesn’t care to explain, fully. What we learn is just what we see: we see Doggett working incredibly hard on a case involving a kidnapped child. We see him looking at a photo of a child that he carries with him. And we have a police psychic shouting that he lost a child. Hardly conclusive, and yet hardly not. Safe to assume he’s got an emotional X-File of his own.
The episode’s story isn’t particularly original, but it’s very well-executed. A boy, Billy, disappears from a playground at age seven. Ten years later he re-appears, looking exactly the same age. He won’t speak, he creeps out the family dog, and in the middle of the night he stabs a bloody knife into his older brother’s mattress. The kid playing Billy is absolute perfection, blond and dead-eyed and yet still boyish enough to appear, briefly, nonthreatening.
Soon it becomes clear that the Billy we see is no longer of this world. There’s a local burn-out, Ronnie, who Doggett tags as a suspect. Only as it turns out, Ronnie’s the only one who knows how impossible Billy’s re-appearance is. Her mother’s boyfriend, Cal, is the one who originally abducted—and murdered—Billy. Ronnie knows where Billy’s bones are, he knows the kid has got to be dead. And yet there the kid is, appearing suddenly in the passenger seat of his car, staring.
Scully puts forth the theory that Billy may be an alien abductee, a theory Doggett dismisses as quickly as he can. Scully pushes forward, knowing exactly how she sounds—“I’m not saying I can explain it,” she says. “But this is definitely not normal.” Watching Scully relate to Doggett in this context is interesting, but also brutal, in a way. She’s taking her first steps out of skepticism, but she’s got to keep herself grounded, both so that she can relate to her new partner and so that she can stay true to her own standards.
What’s hard is how little he gives her to work with—either because he’s distracted by the nature of the case, or because he’s really just not willing to give any ground on this X-Files business. As the paranormal evidence mounts, you see Scully working hard to temper her frustrations. She’s forced to keep pointing at the things that have just happened, to underscore them, no matter how ridiculous they seem. “Everything about this case is impossible,” she says, but then what? It’s hard to move an investigation forward when one person won’t believe, and the other believes but can’t figure out what to do next.
Billy: turns out to be a ghost, I think, things get a little fuzzy at the end, and no word on what he was even doing with that bloody knife. His re-appearance spurs Ronnie to confess how he helped Cal; Scully and Doggett go tearing after the real bad guy; Billy appears and reappears and when they go to the place where he was, it’s his grave, and he is dead. Doggett is of course unhappy with the notion that this is justice “from beyond the grave.” Scully pats his arm and tries to point out that he did a good job, regardless of what he believes. It’s a nice thing for a partner to do, and maybe they’ll have a relationship yet. But until then, it’s two sharp angles, glaring inward.